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Bengals vs Steelers: What we learned from 2016 Wild Card matchup

The Bengals best regular season in 27 years came to the same unceremonious conclusion as the last four - a frustrating first round exit. Brace yourself, there was a lot we learned this weekend.

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Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

No article has been more difficult to write than this one. The level of frustration, disappointment, anger and disgust make re-hashing Saturday's game so difficult. I waited a full 24 hours before even starting this article because I had to take inventory of what I saw and how I felt. I apologize if I am rambling at times - and I apologize for not including chapters and a table of contents in this one!

I said before the game, no playoff win would be more rewarding than a win over the Steelers and no loss would be more gut-wrenching. I could not have dreamt how painful that loss could be. A lot was learned on Saturday night about the Bengals, the Steelers and the NFL - some good, some bad, some terrible and some, just downright painful.

I lead off with the Bengals side, because regardless of what you think or where your anger lies, the Bengals themselves could have/should have won that game and failed.

The Bengals' season is over

At the end of the day, as hard as it is to swallow, all that matters is the Bengals' season has come to an end - yet again - after a three hour appearance on Wildcard weekend. Regardless of what you thought about the officiating, etc., the Bengals lost and their season is done.

For a franchise (and fanbase) defined by losses and heartbreak, that was the worst/most painful loss in franchise history

The 1981 Super Bowl. The 1988 Super Bowl. The 2005 Wildcard loss. All were painful (or would have been if I were old enough to remember). But in none of those games did the Bengals have the ball, with a lead, deep in the opponent's territory with 90 seconds left. For the Bengals to lose that game, was brutal. For them to lose in the fashion in which they lost, was inexcusable and disgusting.

The best season I can ever remember as a Bengals fan came to an end in the most gut-wrenching way possible

Losing in the playoffs, on a last second field goal, with a backup quarterback making his fourth NFL start is nothing to be ashamed of. Losing a game the Bengals had won, in the fashion with which they lost it, against your most hated rival? That is tough and will be a loss no Bengals fan, coach or player will ever get over.

The two best Bengals teams I can remember (2005 and 2015) got to play two snaps in the playoffs with their starting quarterbacks

The injury to Carson Palmer in 2005 was a dirty hit. The Andy Dalton injury, obviously, was not dirty. Either way, I would have loved to see what those two teams could have done with their starting quarterbacks. In my opinion, both teams were Super Bowl contenders, but unfortunately, we will never know.

There was no class on either side of the field - but the media is heavily slanted toward the Bengals' antics

Don't be fooled, it is the Bengals' antics that will be most remembered because they cost the team the victory. That being said, no one came out of that game looking good - the Bengals, the Steelers, either team's fans, the officials, no one. We will get into the specifics later, but the most frustrating part is how all week long the Bengals talked about not stooping to the Steelers level and keeping their composure, but when push came to shove - literally - the Bengals lost their composure, and unfortunately, lost their chance at writing history.

That being said, I have heard it ad nauseam all weekend/week about the loss of composure and lack of class of the Bengals. I am not here defending the actions of the Bengals players and fans (both of which were deplorable at the end). What I am here to say is that many seem to be conveniently looking past the lack of composure and class that was demonstrated on both sides of the field. Hair pulling by coaches? Coaches on the field trash talking with players? Both teams looked bad.

Vontaze Burfict is a is Adam Jones

We as fans love the passion, enthusiasm and edge that both of these players play with. As fans, we have complained for years how the Bengals have lacked that fiery player on the defensive side. Well, we have them and they are high risk, high reward. You saw the reward all game long as Burfict made big play after big play, including what should have been the game winning pick, and Jones shut down the Steelers high flying offense yet again, allowing only one catch. But, when they were needed most, you saw the downside to players like Burfict and Jones. Their inability to control themselves at the end of the game cost the Bengals a shot at New England this weekend.

Burfict's hit, in my opinion, was not the egregious hit many have made it out to be. In my opinion, it was a penalty, though I do believe there is an argument that could be made the other way (as I've heard many, including Deion Sanders argue). That being said, it was stupid. The two biggest reasons: 1) Burfict has to know his reputation. I have said it here before - in fact, I said it after the Broncos game - Burfict has a well-earned reputation and will not get the benefit of the doubt. He has to know that and has to be extra cautious. 2) It was completely unnecessary. The throw was way over Antonio Brown's head and Burfict had time, not a lot, but enough time to adjust himself and not hit Brown.

As for Jones, while he is 100 percent correct that Joey Porter should not have been on the field and while I believe Porter was out there to try and start stuff, Jones has to keep his composure and not take the bait. Jones, like he has in the past (on and off the field) lost his temper. Given the situation, I don't think the official should have thrown the flag, or at least given an offsetting penalty to Porter, but Jones has to be in control of himself. He lost control and as a result, helped lose the game for the Bengals and his Instagram rant showed that he just doesn't seem to "get it."

Vontaze Burfict is a dirty player

That doesn't mean you can't like the guy, far from it. He seems to be a really good guy off the field, but fans can't defend his actions on the field. Bengals fans may not want to admit it, but he is a dirty player. He was in college - in fact, that is exactly why he went undrafted. He still is a dirty player. It appeared he had improved in the area of self-control at the beginning of his Bengals career - thus earning his contract - but since he earned his contract, he seems to have reverted back to the undisciplined and dirty player he has always been known as. He has earned his reputation and until he does something to change that, he will never get the benefit of the doubt.

The Bengals were the better team on Saturday night, and for 58 minutes, were the more composed team

This game was a fantastic game and on the fast track of becoming an instant classic. Bengals shed 25 year drought by making an improbable fourth quarter comeback, in the rain, against their most hated rival, with a backup quarterback. For the first 58 minutes, I thought the Bengals were the more composed team. It had all the makings of a Cinderella story. Unfortunately for the Bengals, the city and their fans, Cinderella turned into a pumpkin 90 seconds too soon.

The coaches, fans, city, organization and most of the players deserved better

I am no Marvin Lewis apologist, but he deserved to get the "no playoff win" monkey off his back. The fans, who have waited 25 long years deserved that win. The city deserved that win. Mike Brown deserved that win (words I never thought I would write). And the players deserved that win. What makes that win so difficult is that team was such a likeable team filled with a bunch of really good guys and the lasting memory - and the only thing the national audience will remember - will be the actions of a few bad eggs.

Burfict and Jones weren't the only ones to lose their composure

Sure, the antics of Burfict and Jones at the end will be what is remembered, but they weren't the only ones to let the team down. The Bengals leaders let them down as well. Most notably, Domata Peko and Andrew Whitworth. After giving a pregame interview about winning every play, Whitworth had two first quarter false starts and was the leader of a line which couldn't run the ball early and take pressure off AJ McCarron. And Peko - what the hell was he doing running onto the field to push a Steelers player? With his coat flapping in the wind like a cape, Peko ran right past an official to push a player on the field. It's sad to say, but I expect guys like Burfict and Jones to get stupid penalties every now and again, but not Peko. That surprised me.

Marvin Lewis has a lot of blame in that loss, but the players lost that game, not Marvin

The "Fire Marvin" rhetoric will be loud and understandable. If you want to blame him for the lack of early success, I can agree to a certain extent, but the defense came out playing well and the offense I put on Hue Jackson. If you want to say he has lost control of his team, or he is to blame for his team's lack composure or discipline, you have a valid argument. But, if you want to put that loss on Marvin, I disagree. If Jeremy Hill holds onto the football, we are praising Marvin for keeping his team composed and leading the team to one of the best and most unlikely comebacks in playoff history. If Hill holds onto the football, the Burfict penalty doesn't happen and neither does the Jones penalty. At some point, we have to put the blame on the players for not performing on the field. Marvin cannot hold onto the football. Nor can he control Burfict and Jones once they step onto the field. All night long we saw Marvin talking to Burfict. When Burfict makes a stupid penalty on the field, that is on Burfict, not Marvin.

No, the Bengals should not have kneeled three times and kicked a field goal/punted

Hindsight is always 20/20, but Marvin Lewis made the correct decision in having Jeremy Hill run the ball in the final seconds of Saturday's game. Hill's job is simple, make sure the play ends with you on the ground, in the field of play, with the ball in your hands. Hill didn't do his job. Imagine the uproar if they called three kneels and punted with a minute left, only to have the Steelers win on a field goal. Don't think that could happen? Go watch the end of the Cardinals game. What if they kneel three times and then miss the field goal? A 45 yard field goal in the pouring rain is no sure thing. A miss would have given the Steelers the ball around the 35 yard line with a minute to navigate 30 or so yards - something they were obviously capable of doing. Lewis made the right call, his players didn't execute.

90 seconds of failure by players has started up the "this team will never win with Mike Brown" BS
I have heard it multiple times since the game concluded, "this team will never win with Mike Brown." For the first 15 years of his reign, I would agree with you, but he has changed and so has the organization - for the better. The Bengals have become one of the best run organizations in the league. They draft well. They don't overspend. They have stable management and stable coaching. And though they may not have the post season success to show for it, they have a ton of regular season success to show for it - five straight playoff appearances and six times in seven years. Believe me, no one wants a Super Bowl win more than I do and I know you don't play just to make the playoffs, but you have to get to the playoffs to win a Super Bowl and the Bengals have found a great recipe to get to the playoffs every year in arguably the toughest division in football. If we are going to blame Brown for the failures in the 1990's, we cannot withhold credit for the team's success over the last 12 or 13 years.

Jeremy Hill has a fumbling problem

Three runs and a field goal or punt was all that stood between the Bengals moving on in the playoffs for the first time in 25 years. All Jeremy Hill had to do was take three hand offs, put two hands on the ball and be tackled in the field of play with the ball in his control. He failed on his first attempt and the Bengals paid dearly. To his credit, Hill took the blame, but this much is clear, Jeremy Hill has a fumbling problem and has become a liability. In 515 NFL touches, he has 9 fumbles, meaning he fumbles about 1.7% of his touches or once every four games. Clearly the coaches lost trust in his ball security earlier in the year and if Giovani Bernard had not been knocked out of the game, Hill probably would not have been in the game at the end. But he was...and he fumbled. It may sound crazy, but at this point you have to wonder if Hill can come back from this. Cutting or trading him - though unlikely - should be a legitimate conversation.

My distrust of the defense - when needed - proved to be valid (unfortunately)

I said all year long, when this defense is needed, they crumble. Yes, Burfict came up with an interception that should have won the game, but it didn't, so the defense was called on again. With about 90 seconds on the clock, the Steelers were pinned at their own nine yard line with a quarterback playing with an injured throwing shoulder. Just like they did in Arizona and Denver, fueled by soft coverage and penalties, the defense let the Steelers drive about 76 yards in a little more than a minute.

The Bengals run defense in the playoffs has been a problem - it was again

All of the talk about the Bengals failures in the playoffs has surrounded Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton, but the real problem has been the run defense. In their seven playoff losses under Lewis, the Bengals run defense has surrendered 144, 171, 188, 158, 196, 114 and 167 yards, a whopping 162.6 yards per game! Saturday night was the same story, as the Bengals allowed a running attack lead by some guy named Fitzgerald Toussaint to get 167.

Hue Jackson's game plan looked like he spent too much time prepping for his interviews on Sunday

Sure, he was working with a quarterback making his fourth NFL start, but the Bengals offense was anemic for the first three quarters, continuously failing to convert on excellent field position and amassing zero points and three turnovers. The offensive line was getting little push in the run game and if not for the Bengals getting fired up by the dirty hit of Shazier, the offense may never have woken up.

The most egregious play call of the night was on the critical two-point conversion attempt. A successful attempt would have given the Bengals a three point lead with about two minutes to play and as we have complained about all year, Hue got cute. With a shell shocked defense on the field, the Bengals ran a backwards screen to Hill - a play which failed miserably and if Hill had dropped the pass, could have allowed the Steelers to return the ball for two points and regain the lead. If the play itself wasn't bad enough, the personnel on the field was inexcusable. Against a terrible secondary which just surrendered the go ahead touchdown, Hue had a play drawn up with Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah and Hill on the field. No A.J. Green. No Marvin Jones. No Mohamed Sanu. For all of Hue's success this season, his penchant for getting "too cute" hurt the Bengals on numerous occasions.

The Bengals offensive line was the biggest issue in that game

Given the weather and the fact that McCarron was starting, it was imperative that the Bengals get the run game going. Unfortunately, like they did most of the year, the Bengals had issues running the football consistently. While 91 yards on 24 carries (3.8 YPC) sounds respectable, 38 of those yards came on one run. The other 23 runs netted just 53 yards (2.3 YPC). The Bengals never got enough of a run game going to keep the Steelers defense honest, and as a result, it affected the passing game as well.

The Steelers are saying Burfict and other players spit on them - if so, that is indefensible

Not much to say here. It hasn't been proven, but if true, that is classless and indefensible.

Bengals fans throwing stuff at Ben Roethlisberger was classless and if found, should be banned from ever attending a sporting even again

I hate Ben Roethlisberger, not just as a football player, but as a human being. His past is well known and doesn't need to be discussed here. I can 100 percent say, if he were the quarterback of my team, I would have a hell of a time rooting for the guy. That being said, cheering an injury - even to him - is classless. Throwing objects onto the field in disgust of a player is also classes. Throwing objects at an injured player being carted off the field is deplorable and the Cincinnati fans who cheered and threw things should be ashamed. I am sure they will never be outed, but if their identities are ever discovered, I think the proper punishment should be public ridicule and a banning from ever attending another sporting event. I know it was the actions of only a few, but I was embarrassed to be a Cincinnati fan when things were being thrown at Roethlisberger. Remember the words of Sam Wyche? "You don't live in Cleveland. You live in Cincinnati!"

The petition going around asking for an NFL investigation into the game is stupid

This is the type of "Bush League" whining and crying we Cincinnati fans complain about when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Saint Louis Cardinals. There were some terrible calls, but the Bengals lost the game, not the NFL, not the officials and not the Steelers. Carlos Dunlap said it best, the Bengals beat the Bengals.

I waited this long to bring the refs into it because the refs didn't lose that game, the Bengals did. That being said, here is my take on the guys in stripes.

The refs didn't lose that game, but they were terrible...again

Somehow the same head referee who was in charge of the Week 14 debacle between these two teams was assigned this game again, and no surprise, he lost control of the game again. I don't know what was the most frustrating call/non-call of the night, but regardless, the officiating was terrible. What I find most frustrating about NFL officiating is the inconsistencies...

The NFL still has zero idea what a catch is

Speaking of inconsistencies, what is a catch? Does anyone know. I have watched the Martavis Bryant touchdown catch about 50 times, and while the "catch" was amazing, I still do not see control with two feet down. To me, this was much clearer than most catch/no catch controversies because the ball is moving the entire time and is not controlled until he pins it against the back of his leg - at which time he only got one foot down. For the referee to review that play and call it a "catch" was mindboggling to me and I am surprised how little this has been discussed. I would think Dez Bryant and Calvin Johnson have a very big issue with this being called a catch, and rightfully so.

The NFL also has zero idea of what is and is not a legal hit

Let's play a game! Quick, which hit below was flagged?

If you guessed the shoulder to shoulder hit on the right, you are the winner!

In the referee's defense, the game is becoming so difficult to officiate and nothing is harder to call at full speed than the head shots, but as the replays show, Shawn Williams had a clean shoulder to shoulder hit and was flagged. Meanwhile, Ryan Shazier puts the crown of his helmet into the face of Giovani Bernard and not only is it not flagged, a fumble is called. It was at this moment that the referees lost control of the game. The announcers and Mike Carey tried to tell us that Bernard was established as a runner, but 1) if Bryant not yet considered a runner, neither was Bernard; and 2) it doesn't matter, because Shazier's hit was a clear violation of Article 8 of the NFL Rulebook, Initiating Contact with the Crown of the Helmet. If the NFL is concerned about safety, as they say they are, this is the type of play they need to remove. By not flagging this type of hit - and awarding the Steelers the football - this type of hit is rewarded.

In what should have been a celebration of epic proportion, there was some good to come from the game.

The Bengals scored a second half touchdown in the playoffs

Coming into the game, the Bengals had six second half points (no touchdowns) in their six prior playoff games under Lewis, so to get two touchdowns and 16 points in the second half, with a backup quarterback nonetheless, was an offensive explosion and a step in the right direction.

AJ McCarron can be a starter in the NFL

McCarron didn't play particularly well on Saturday, but he didn't play bad either and I thought played with a lot of poise and his late game drives were impressive. McCarron was pushed into a difficult situation this season and in my mind, played very well. In my opinion, he could start, today, on 8-10 NFL teams and make them better. The Bengals either have a solid backup or a good trading chip.

A.J. Green showed up in the playoffs for the first time in his career

For the last five years we have been clamoring for Green to take over a playoff game. While he didn't take over the game, he played well, got his first touchdown and drew a huge defensive pass interference penalty as well. We said going into this game, with Dalton out, Green had to step up and help McCarron and I think he did.

It would be nice for the Bengals to get to play the Steelers in the playoff with their starting quarterback

As I said above, McCarron played well enough to win, but if Dalton plays in that game, I am very confident the Bengals win. In two playoff games against the Steelers - the best two Bengals teams I can remember - they got to take two offensive snaps in the playoffs with their starting quarterback. That is frustrating.

The media has a predetermined narrative when it comes to the Bengals

The national media loves the "Bungles" narrative just as much as they love the Bengals are out of control, dirty thugs narrative. And, while the Bengals gave them plenty of fodder, it is amazing to me (though not surprising) how much the Steelers behavior - which was equally as dirty and embarrassing - is being overlooked/excused. It is though the national media forgets that the laundry list of dirty players who have worn black and yellow throughout the history of football.

I saved the talk of the Steelers for last, because this is the stuff the Bengals cannot control. If the Bengals do their job, none of the stuff below matters. That being said, here is what I learned from the Steelers and their actions.

Ryan Shazier's hit on Giovani Bernard was disturbing...the Steelers celebrating was disgusting

In my opinion, and the opinion of many, this hit was the most dangerous and disturbing hit of the game and is the moment the refs lost control of the game. In my opinion, there were three egregious officiating errors made on this one play. 1) Bernard was not a runner and was 100% defenseless. 2) Shazier hit Bernard in the face with the crown of his helmet (outside of the tackle box) and therefore should have been flagged. The 15 yard penalty would have negated the fumble and given the Bengals a first down deep in Pittsburgh territory, down 15-0 with about two minutes left in the third quarter. 3) The Steelers should have been flagged for celebrating at midfield regardless of which way the refs ruled. How is running out to midfield for a group celebration not an unsportsmanlike penalty? Let alone the disgusting fact that this was going on while Bernard still lay motionless on the turf. Remember how angry the Steelers were because they perceived Burfict was celebrating his injury of Le'Veon Bell earlier in the year?

The Steelers dancing at midfield with Bernard down was completely classless, but unfortunately is par for the course for the Steelers franchise and Mike Tomlin coached teams.

The non-call on Shazier (and celebration) was the catalyst for the end of game antics

As I said above, the non-call on the Shazier hit was when the refs lost what semblance of control they had on that game - with the players and the fans. In my opinion, if they make the right call and flag the hit, the fans aren't throwing things on the field all night. The game stays tense, but not chippy, and the ugly ending doesn't occur. We will never know for sure, but the environment in that stadium and on that field changed after that play and the refs never regained control.

For an organization that claims "class" the Steelers have very little of it

The Steelers players and fans had a lot of issues with what they perceived as Burfict celebrating the injury of Bell back in Week 14. They had little issues with their own players dancing like idiots while Bernard was unconscious on the field as a result of dirty hit by Shazier. While the Bengals had issues controlling their players for the second straight matchup against the Steelers, the Steelers had issues controlling their coaches AND players for the second straight game.

Mike Tomlin's coaching staff has a history of confronting/contacting opposing players

Lost in Saturday night's debacle is the lack of class and control that Mike Tomlin and his coaching staff have. Here are the issues he and his coaching staff have had over the past few years:

Mike Tomlin: Fined $100,000 in 2013 when he attempted to interfere with a kickoff return. Also confronted Reggie Nelson in 2014 after Nelson knocked Le'Veon Bell out of a game - with a clean hit.

Mike Munchak: Pulled the hair of an opposing player on Saturday - flagged and likely to be fined.

Joey Porter: Was part of a 15 yard penalty in the last Bengals/Steelers game at PBS and went on the field on Saturday night and began trash talking with opposing players - not flagged, likely to be fined. He also has a past that has forever left him as an enemy to Bengals fans.

Todd Haley: Reportedly put a bounty on Wallace Gilberry during the team's prior matchup.

Based on the above, I am guessing there are more incidents which I am simply unaware of.

Somewhere David DeCastro is still blocking Burfict

Steelers fans loved the sight of DeCastro planting Burfict on the ground on Saturday night, and rightfully so. The only thing was, it came significantly after the whistle and about 10 yards down the field. Not surprisingly, DeCastro was not penalized.

A coach contacting a player should always result in ejection of the coach

As a former coach, coaches always should be held to a higher standard and there are certain things, as a coach, you never do. And, if you do those things you should be punished severely. Those two things are: 1) trash talk with players and 2) make contact with opposing players - other than holding them up or separating them from a skirmish. As a coach, if I trash talked to an opposing player, I would have been suspended. If I touched an opposing player, I would have been banned from the league. Don't tell me the rules should be different because it is professional sports. If anything, the punishment should be more severe. These coaches are being paid six (sometimes seven) figures and are charged with controlling players. If they can't control themselves, they have no business in the league.

Mike Munchak is a coward

Munchak pulled another man's hair. Think about that statement for a second. A 55 year old NFL coach pulled the hair of an opposing player. That is something 10 year old girls do. I have no idea what may have been said (or if anything was said), nor do I care because it wouldn't matter. There is actually a Steelers sites trying to defend him saying he was trying to stop him from going after Jordan Todman - a story which is based on zero facts and a complete fabrication of intent. Even if you were to believe that garbage for a second - something which would be way out of character for Nelson - it wouldn't matter. Munchak is a 55-year-old coach who pulled the hair of an opposing player....meaning Mike Munchak is a coward. In my opinion, any punishment less than a suspension is a joke.

Joey Porter is and always will be a clown

Joey Porter was a very good football player. Joey Porter always has been and always will be a goon - both on and off the field.

Here is a snapshot of the guy Mike Tomlin and the Rooney's have decided to employee as their outside linebacker coach:

1999 - Arrested for speeding and driving on a suspended license.

2003 - Shot outside a Colorado bar - apparently as an innocent bystander

2003 - Went to the Baltimore Ravens bus to challenge Ray Lewis to fight.

2004 - Ejected prior to a game against the Browns for getting into a pregame fight with Browns running back William Green.

2007 - Porter and six or seven others jump and rob Bengals left tackle Levi Jones at a Las Vegas Casino while Jones was playing blackjack by himself.

2010 - Arrested for DUI, resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer.

2012 - Arrested and jailed for writing a bad check to a Las Vegas Casino.

2015 first matchup at PBS - Was part of the pregame scrum and apparently trying to fight players.

2015 Wildcard - Draws penalty on Adam Jones after being illegally on the field, in the middle of the Bengals defensive players and reportedly cussing at the players.

15 unsportsmanlike/personal foul penalties over his 13 year career.

Sounds like a heck of a coaching hire to me!

Side note, imagine if the Bengals hired a coach with this track record - especially if he then acted the way Porter did. Paul Guenther and Andrew Whitworth summed Porter up best: Guenther referred to Porter as an "embarrassment to the coaching profession" and Whitworth called him "classless." Both, while spot on, were being nice in my opinion. Either way, he has no business being a coach on an NFL sideline and it is a disgrace that any coach/organization would employ him.

Joey Porter was on the field to bait the Bengals - and he got them

According to the rules of the NFL, Porter should not have been on the field. Had the referees enforced the rule, the Steelers would have been attempting a 50 yard field goal in the rain, not a 35 yarder. If the referees would have flagged Porter, it would have pushed the Steelers out of field goal position. According to Paul Guenther and the Bengals players, Porter's talking was an issue in their Week 14 matchup and Guenther even addressed it with Porter before the game. You would think the referee - who oversaw the debacle in Week 14 as well - would have been aware of this and got Porter off the field, especially given his reputation and history. Either way, Porter did what Porter does and the Bengals were dumb enough to fall for it.

If Mike Tomlin gave Porter a game ball, Tomlin should be suspended

There were originally some reports saying the Steelers had given Porter a game ball for drawing the Jones penalty. If true, Tomlin would have been condoning the behavior and basically flipping his middle finger at the league. Tomlin has since came out and said this report is "untrue." While I don't believe this for a second, it is a "he said/she said" story which means very little.

Now, looking forward to 2016.

Until the Bengals win a game in the playoffs, their regular seasons will be deemed completely meaningless for fans and media alike - and that is unfortunate and frustrating

The Bengals have been a victim of their successful failed seasons. Because of their amazing consistency, they have made the playoffs five straight years and six of the last seven. However, since they have yet to win a game in the playoffs, they get no respect in the regular season and their regular seasons have been rendered meaningless - from a media and fan standpoint. Getting to the playoffs is no longer an accomplishment for this team. They have to win. That is something they cannot do until next January, which means we all need to get ready for another year of "they can't win in the playoffs" talk. It is valid, but frustrating. The Bengals could go 16-0 next year and no one would care (well, let's be real, we would care), because until they win in the playoffs, they have become an afterthought.

It seems like Cincinnati sports are defined by "what ifs"

Tim Krumrie's leg. Lewis Billups' dropped interception. Carson Palmer's knee. Kenyon Martin's leg. Johnny Cueto's back. Andy Dalton's thumb. With the exception of the 1990 Reds season, every promising Cincinnati sports team has seen their season come to a crashing halt resulting from a season ending injury to their most important player (or one of the most important). The 2015 Bengals season has a lot more "what if's" than just Dalton's thumb, but ultimately, it will just be another "what if" season.

This article is finally done!

Believe it or not, I have run out of things to say - or the requisite energy to say them. We're moving on to 2016.